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The opportunities and hard work ahead

In reviewing the plans put forward by the incoming Biden administration, several elements align with work already underway at Ecotrust and throughout the region.

The election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is promising for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that Vice President-Elect Harris is the first woman, first Black person, and first Asian-American to serve in that role.

But what is clear to me today, is that to make progress on the huge challenges we face—global warming, the pandemic, racial and economic inequity—we need to collaborate much more effectively than we have.

As an organization, we have worked toward common purpose with a wide range of partners across social, geographic, and ideological divides for the better part of 30 years. We understand this nation’s extractive version of capitalism, undergirded by systemic racism and sexism, has led to an unequal and unjust allocation of wealth and well-being that is at the root of much pain and divisiveness today.

Whatever policies a new administration pursues, what I know is that the path forward must center racial and social equity. It is the right thing to do in that it aligns with our highest values and it is the smart thing to do because it will lead to better outcomes. Already in our region, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color are leading the way in radical practical solutions built on a foundation of authentic collaboration. These partnerships are the cornerstones of real progress.

When I look at the Biden-Harris climate and jobs plan, I see a great opportunity to keep moving forward in a way that builds power for BIPOC communities, supports what Jane Jacobs called “a reliable prosperity” in urban and rural areas, and addresses the urgent need for climate action—all essential elements of a more equitable, livable future.

Key elements of the plan (in italics below) reflect insights and work we have been doing for years. A renewed infusion of federal investment and policy behind those ideas can help spur the systems change we are seeking as part of forward-thinking partnerships, already at work throughout the region.

Here are some key opportunities I see:

Invest in green infrastructure that reduces emissions, builds resilience, and climate impacts, and creates durable jobs.

Our research suggests that every $1 million invested in green infrastructure creates 24 full-time, family-wage jobs. Communities of color experience outsized impacts from environmental pollution and the daily realities of climate change as well as high rates of unemployment. Progressive investments in green infrastructure that are both led by and directly benefit frontline communities would reduce climate impacts while addressing inequitable access to living-wage jobs in the green sector.

At Ecotrust, this work is already underway. As a proud partner in the Green Workforce Collaborative, we’re working alongside The Blueprint Foundation, Native American Youth and Family Center, Self Enhancement, Inc., and Wisdom of the Elders, to develop and deliver a replicable workforce readiness and environmental literacy program that offers young adults of color safe, in-person, hands-on learning about green sector jobs, while earning a stipend.

Establish a Civilian Climate Corps that puts thousands of underemployed people to work reducing wildfire risk and restoring degraded ecosystems.

This fire season was the latest, devastating evidence of 100 years of fire suppression and intensive land management in the American West. A Civilian Climate Corps can make an important impact, and help sustain public awareness on the needs and opportunities in our forests. But we need investments for the long-term. We have demonstrated the economic benefits of watershed restoration and shown the viability of climate-smart forestry alongside family forest landowners, Native American Tribes, and public land managers across the region. Building on decades-long efforts to spur a significant shift toward ecologically-sound forest management, we are working with partners to introduce forestry and other environmental areas of study to Native youth through a culturally-relevant curriculum, supported by Native mentors who are pursuing advanced degrees in similar subject areas. Already, we see opportunities rising for this curriculum to be replicated and shared across the country, inspiring the next generation of Indigenous stewards.

Expand conservation programs that accelerate climate regenerative agriculture, like cover cropping and other practices that restore soil health and sequester more carbon.

In our recommendations to the US House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis we outline the benefits of climate-smart practices, not only for food-related agricultural production, but forest products and ocean harvesting as well. In an ongoing study, we are working to identify specific land management activities that have both the greatest potential to mitigate the impacts of climate change and help our working landscapes in the Pacific Northwest prepare for a climate-constrained future. And our Ag of the Middle Accelerator program represents a growing cohort of producers throughout the region who share a focus on climate-resilience for both business viability and community well-being. For nearly 30 years, Ecotrust has maintained a commitment to conducting illustrative research, engaging with regional leaders, and identifying opportunities to invest in equitable, innovative, replicable projects that create pathways to resilience.

Dismantle federal farm programs that have historically discriminated against Black farmers, and generally invest more intentionally in building a more diverse new generation of land stewards.

As illustrated by my colleague, Jamese Kwele, Black and Indigenous land access and ownership is one of the best ways to transition agricultural production toward climate-smart practices to the benefit of people and place. In the coming years, here in the Pacific Northwest, we will be working with a strengthening cohort of partners to address a history of racist and exclusionary practices that have put barriers between BIPOC communities and land stewardship.

As I reflect on the election and the deep divisions evident in its results, I see the need for humble, sustained collaboration between people and communities mired in mistrust. We at Ecotrust are committed to doing that hard work that remains.